CHICAGO (Reuters) - Jessica Mah started her first business at 13 selling computer parts on eBay and like most entrepreneurs struggled with her finances.
“I never actually figured out how much money I was making from that business,” said Mah, adding that she recognized the need for a product that could demystify the accounting process early on. “I was thinking I was making a lot more money than I actually was.”
That business is long gone, but Mah, now 20, is trying to lessen the accounting pain for others. Last summer Mah launched inDinero (www.inDinero.com), an online platform that lets small companies track their finances in real time.
“A lot of people are really bad at managing their money,” said Mah, who co-founded inDinero with her University of California, Berkeley classmate Andy Su, a month after graduating from their computer science program. “We thought we could build something more elegant, simpler - something people would actually use. Business owners don’t want to do any work.”
InDinero works by securely linking a business’s bank accounts, credit cards, loans, receivables, commitments and more - basically all incoming and outgoing monies - automatically downloading transactions and balances.
Mah doesn’t shy away from the comparison to Mint.com, the popular online platform that gives individual users a similar snapshot of their finances.
“That’s a fair analogy,” said Mah, who began programing at 9 and graduated from high school at the tender age of 15. “Every night we download all of your transactions, categorize them into different buckets - dining, rent, payroll, you name it.”
ADDRESSING “PENT UP NEED”
The company won early funding from Berkeley’s Center of Entrepreneurship and accelerator program Y Combinator; to date it has attracted nearly $1 million in angel investment and counts some 10,000 users.
David Wu, an angel investor in the concept and executive-in-residence at Silicon Valley venture capital firm Redpoint Ventures, said inDinero is filling a niche in the accounting software space.
“There is a huge chunk of the market that uses pencil and paper because it’s too hard to do accounting,” said Wu, who previously ran the QuickBooks Online unit for accounting software maker Intuit, which acquired Mint in 2009. “There is a pent up need in the small business market for something that’s easier.”
In addition to Wu, inDinero’s other high-profile investors include: Elad Gil (Twitter), Kevin Hartz (EventBrite CEO), Jawed Karim (YouTube Founder), Jeremy Stoppelman (Yelp CEO), Dave McClure (500Startups and Mint investor), and Keith Rabois (Square).
InDinero is initially free. It then charges businesses monthly fees of up to $99, depending on their transaction volumes, all without a single mention of off-putting terms like accruals, amortization, intangibles or liabilities.
“I asked a lot of people, ‘What do you think of this vocabulary? Do you understand what it means?'” said Mah, noting many off-the-shelf programs still require knowledge of accounting terminology. “A lot of them told us, ‘No,’ and that’s one of the reasons they’re not actually managing their accounting software themselves.”
To her surprise, she said it has not just been mom-and-pop businesses that gravitated to inDinero, but many with significant scale and sizeable employee rosters.
“It’s amazing how even the founders and executive teams don’t actually have as much day-to-day insight into their money as they ought to,” she said.
Terry Hardman, owner of an Oklahoma City, Oklahoma-based business that distributes and repairs surgical equipment, said inDinero’s ease of use won him over. “It’s extremely user friendly,” said Hardman, who often pulls up his account from his mobile phone. “I’ve got a true picture right there in one spot.”
At least one accountant said that anything that takes the hassle out of the accounting process and provides real-time information is worth considering.
“I think the biggest problem people have had in the past is they were using software that was far more sophisticated than the type of business they had,” said Ruth Goran, a CPA in Skokie, Illinois who specializes in small businesses. “It made it more cumbersome.”
Mah, for her part, is a committed user of her own software, which sometimes sheds light on the growing Mountain View, California company’s excesses.
“I didn’t realize how much we were spending on food and restaurants,” she said. “This happens across most businesses and most categories. Just by looking at the graphs and trying to figure out where your money is going is a huge factor in helping you save money.”